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Producers encouraged to add value to calf crop

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Greeley, Colo. – Ranchers should do everything possible to capture the most value from their calf crop, according to two Colorado cattle feeders. Steve Gable, owner of Magnum Feed yard in Wiggins, Colo. and Randy Miller, owner of Miller Cattle Feeders in Pierce, Colo., were on hand at the Colorado Farm Show Beef Day in Greeley, Colo. to share some tips with beef producers on how to get the most value out of their calf crop.

“The market determines what you do and how you do it, as far as selling your calves or retaining ownership,” Miller told producers. “From a feedlot standpoint, the market determines what calves I buy and at what weight.”

Specialty programs

It is important for ranchers to understand what they have and whether or not their cattle fit into a specialty program where they could capture some extra value. Although premiums for source and age verified calves may be discontinued since Japan has lifted its import restrictions, there are other programs that still pay premiums. 

“There is still a great market for non-hormone treated cattle (NHTC), grass fed and natural beef,” Gable explained. “No one calls me up and says it is just a set of calves. If you are putting the time and energy into breeding, calving and weaning your cattle, then you believe in what you are doing. Capture some value from that.”

Even though calf values are at record highs, both feeders encouraged producers to consider retaining ownership, or at least a percentage of ownership, in their calves. 

“There may come a day when you are forced to retain ownership to capture that value,” Miller explained. “By retaining ownership, it helps you understand the process [of feeding cattle], even if you only retain a portion of ownership. It is much easier to manage marketing all the way through a finishing program because you can lock in the value of corn and forward contract fat cattle easier than feeder cattle.”

Monitor vaccine usage

Gable urged producers to keep good records of when vaccines were given and the specific product used.

“Sometimes, the vet might recommend we use something different to get better protection from BVD,” he noted. 

“I am a firm believer in modified live vaccines,” Miller told ranchers. 

“The cattle that have come through my feedlot and had received a killed vaccine just don’t seem to have as good immunity as the calves that received modified live vaccines,” he explained. “The stress just hits them harder.”

Proactive management

In addition to good vaccination records, producers should also keep good records from breeding, calving and weaning, Miller added. 

“If you retain ownership, you will get carcass records, which will help you evaluate the genetics you are using,” he said. 

“It is important to use proactive management,” Miller continued. “It is especially important in evaluating range conditions.” 

The cows may have weaned lighter calves if the producer used the wrong mineral or ran out of feed and didn’t have the facilities to dry lot the calves. He stressed the importance of evaluating whether it is better to wean the calves early or continue to run the pairs on reduced forage. 

“It is important to know your feed costs,” the cattle feeder explained. “I have seen early weaned calves come into the feedlot and perform better than 600 pound milk fat October weaned calves. I don’t know why, but I think it’s because they are hungrier, so they go right to eating,” he said. 

Feeder concerns

When they purchase feeder cattle, Miller and Gable agreed that market outlook is the most important factor. 

“Quality of cattle, reputation of the rancher, weigh-in condition, past performance, flesh and vaccination history are all things we look at when we’re buying cattle,” Miller added. “The profit is made in the buy and sell, if we keep our feed consistent.” 

Both feedlots process their grain using a steam flaker and have the animals on a consistent feeding schedule. 

“I would like to think the feed truck is within 15 minutes of the feeding schedule every day,” he said. 

Gable used as an example a 550-pound steer worth $1.60 when it is finished. 

“If the difference between one and two percent death loss is $13.25 a head finished, it doesn’t seem like much,” he explained. 

With a $340 ration price, any time they can subtract $10 from that, it is the equivalent of $23.60 a head.

“A one-tenth change in conversion is $13.60 a head. All of these things seem minor by themselves, but together they add up. We have found it is important to pay attention to the little details because it will influence profitability at the end,” he said. 

Feedlot management

Meyer said in the last 20 years, general management at the feedlots has drastically improved through better handling facilities and management. 

“We are producing a more consistent product through better cattle handling,” he said. “We just do things so much better now.”

One of those areas is death loss. 

“Some of the cowboys on our crew wear a stethoscope,” Gable said. “When we have a sick calf, the first thing they do is take a weight and temperature. Then they put the stethoscope to the calf’s chest and listen to its lungs and assign it a lung score. That dictates what the animal gets for an antibiotic.” 

“When we adopted this technology, we reduced our per head treatment costs by 50 percent. Now, the technology is available to eliminate the human wearing the stethoscope. The stethoscope is now enabled with blue tooth technology that can transmit the lung sound to the computer, and the computer assigns the calf a lung score,” he explained. 

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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